By Nisha Grayson
I. Choosing to Search
The film Khoya (Lost) tells a story that most people may not know, but a story that many transnational adoptees fantasize about and few have actually experienced, including myself: search for birth family. I was twenty-five years old and fresh out of college when I began to believe that reuniting with my first family in Goa, India was possible. After much thought and support from my friends, I decided that it was my time to seek the truth about the events leading up to my birth and the first six months of my life prior to arriving in the United States.
Khoya (Lost) illustrates that time when some adoptees may stop, take a step back, turn around, and begin to look for missing pieces of their life. Writer/director Sami Khan tells the story of Roger, played by Rupak Ginn, an Indian transnational adoptee who grows up in Canada. After the death of his adoptive mother, Roger returns to India for the first time and begins to search for his birth mother in his foreign birth country.
The inspiration behind Khoya comes from Khan’s personal connection to adoption, one that is not often considered. As a young adult, he learned that before he was born, his mother had relinquished her first child for adoption. Khan had an unknown, older brother. As his family adjusted to the truth, worked through their pain and conflict, Khan developed a desire to ease the pain that his mother carried. He began to research more about his mother’s experience as a first/birth mother stories of search and reunion. He gained a better understanding of the adoptee experience after “seeking out experts that work specifically with adoption issues and and then talking to adoptees about those issues.” He continued his research by reading Daughters of the Ganges and The Girls Who Went Away among other publications by adoptee professionals. Throughout his exploration and writing, he recognized the themes of shame and secrets that silently weaved themselves throughout the stories. During this time, he fantasized about the experience his brother may have had as an adoptee, and about meeting his brother someday. As Khan and his family was changing, the script for Khoya (Lost) was evolving.
III. The Journey
In the film, Roger begins his search by leaving the winter temperatures of Canada and arriving to the humid, wet heat of India. He first visits his orphanage with his adoption records in hand and filled with hopes of being directed to his mother’s whereabouts. Roger is naive, yet passionate and determined to take up any lead he can find. He runs into unforeseen roadblocks along the way, including forged documents, agency corruption, unexpected illness and deaths, and kidnapping to just name a few.
The cinematography and music choices in the film are absolutely stunning. The simplicity of the wardrobe, location, setting, and dialogue combined with the use of natural lighting and a steadicam created a dreamlike feeling. It’s as if you are walking side by side with Roger as he embarks on this deep and meaningful passage to reconnect to India, his birth mother, and also himself.
Although, Khoya is a fictional film, it feels rooted in some of the realities of transnational adoptees. As adults returning to India since birth, Roger and I share some of the same experiences of entering an unknown culture. In order to find someone, we both had to knock on doors and ask neighbors where they lived. “Down the road and ask someone,” was the typical answer I received. Like Roger, in the beginning of every conversation, I had to explain how I only spoke English. With the language barrier and inundation of information, we both reacted with long moments of silence to process. When I saw Roger look at the squatter in the restroom for the first time, I knew exactly how he felt. And sadly, I too have had public agency employees request I return the following day for answers about my birth mother, but instead disappear. It is these subtle, social challenges that many transracial adoptees are forced to face when they return to their place of birth.
Like most dramatic feature length films, the audience needs a sense of progress and a sentimental conclusion. Khan has no problem moving the story along and balancing the hurdles that Roger encounters. One hurdle that most adoptees often face is obtaining their original birth records or file. Khan included a scene where Roger obtained his adoption records, but one may miss the scene and the actual exchange because it was portrayed as an effortless request. Someone outside of the adoption arena may conclude that all adoptees have access to their documents and those documents can easily be obtained, but the reality is just the opposite for many transnational adoptees and U.S. domestic adoptees born in closed record states.
The conclusion of the film is surprising and unexpected. Khan’s intention was to “capture the sense of loss that he (Roger) felt, but to also be hopeful.” Khan’s choice to end his story can be seen as a reflection of his fantasies for his own reunion with his brother, his unique perspective, and how the journey continues past this stage of search and reunion.
As an adoptee, I appreciate Khan’s work and his decision to include the complexities of child trafficking, when to search, access to adoption records, the possibility of not finding first family members, and the initial cultural shock. Khoya (Lost) creates an opportunity to acknowledge and talk about these difficult realities of adoption in hopes of creating less shame.
Khan has been in reunion with his brother and from the research he read, agrees that “reuniting with family members is like dating where it’s this very intense relationship, but you don’t really know each other. So, you have to set boundaries and respect for each other.” Khan admitted what he is “sensitive to all the time is the fact that he is the adoptee. What is my responsibility? I don’t want to him to feel a sense of being shunned or abandoned. I want to be there.”
Khan holds a position in the adoption constellation that we don’t often hear about, the sibling of an adoptee. Prior to the development of Khoya (Lost), Khan would find himself writing stories about siblings reuniting or being separated. It has been inescapable for him. Through his writing and the making of Khoya (Lost), Sami Khan offers us a window into his personal experience with adoption.
Nisha Grayson earned her MS in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from California State University, Sacramento. She is a transracial, transnational adoptee from Goa, India and the subject of the film, YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past that documents her search for her first mother. Nisha shares her experiences and narrative at adoption conferences and trainings throughout the year. To follow Nisha’s adoption journey, please visit her blog, The Adoptee Diary. You can contact Nisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.